HUNTSVILLE, AL – On Jan. 15 an employee of a Huntsville contracting company entered a trench greater than 5 feet in depth to work on underground utility pipes. Shortly after he entered the trench, it collapsed around him, suffocating the employee beneath thousands of pounds of soil. Research estimates that one cubic yard of soil weighs up to 3,000 lbs. – the weight of a small car – giving a worker buried in a trench little chance of survival.
An investigation by the U.S. Department of Labor’s Occupational Safety and Health Administration found Weaver Environmental Services Inc. – operating as WESCO – exposed workers to cave-in hazards when they failed to conduct proper safety inspections of open trenches/excavations and failed to use a shielding system that was available and onsite. The company also failed to protect workers from struck-by hazards while working beneath an undermined section of concrete curbing.
“Trenching and excavation is among the most dangerous work in the construction industry,” explained OSHA Birmingham Area Office Director Ramona Morris. “The failure to use required safety equipment and follow procedures in this case turned a preventable hazard into a fatal result. We hope other industry employers comply with the law and take appropriate actions to avoid similar tragedies.”
Following its investigation, OSHA cited WESCO with one willful violation for exposing workers to cave-in hazards, and two serious violations for failing to inspect the excavation and failing to support the undermined structure, which exposed workers to cave-in and struck-by hazards. OSHA has proposed $110,590 in penalties.
Learn more about trenching and excavation hazards and solutions.
Under the Occupational Safety and Health Act of 1970, employers are responsible for providing safe and healthful workplaces for their employees. OSHA’s role is to ensure these conditions for America’s workers by setting and enforcing standards, and providing training, education and assistance.